Advocating for Birth Change

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 127, Autumn 2018.
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The most important event in many women’s lives is giving birth. It is so pivotal that most moms can remember it in great detail their entire life. I met a woman in Japan who was in her 80s and could recount every detail of her birth. Her father-in-law had been her support person.

This is one of the key reasons we fight so hard to help moms have a magnificent experience. Not only will it stay with her forever but she will tell others about it. It will also be imprinted in her baby’s life and, considering what we know about epigenetics, may go forward to the third generation or beyond. What we do as birth practitioners is so important.

My mother never said a word about birth until I asked her when I was having my second baby—my first homebirth. She said, “I felt like I was the only one who had ever had a baby.” In spite of a spinal block, she was obviously high on it, very happy, and keenly aware of the details. She said when I came out, the world said yes, and I said NO. I needed that to have homebirths and be a homebirth midwife and founder of Midwifery Today—all very rebellious things to do! That life attitude has worked out quite well for me.

One sad issue in our culture is that women who have had great birth experiences are thwarted from telling their stories lest they offend or hurt someone who had a bad experience (this seems to be almost everyone). Women who have had horrendous births tell anyone who will listen. I was at a pizza party/baby shower and every mother there told horror stories. Many of you have also experienced this. However, many people are working hard to help women have the best experience possible, and that is where there is still hope for much-needed change.

One hope I have, despite all of the infighting, is that many more women now are becoming midwives or other birth practitioners. We have more people with the fire in their belly to change birth practices toward optimal birth for each motherbaby. There are plenty of workers in the field now, although we can always use more. The more of us there are, the better chance we have to change things.

My other great hope is in the knowledge of the microbiome and how important that is for the health of the new life as well as of the planet. If we just developed a keen respect for the seeding of the baby’s microbiome, things could change fast. Respect is not yet part of medical school teachings—but could we make that a possibility? There are so many things we can do to help with birth change.

  1. We can tell everyone who will listen about the importance and beauty of birth. It is important to let the world know about the microbiome and how the stage is set by what we do in a birth. There is just no other time in the life of a human—whether mother or baby—that is so significant for their future. While the baby will get the best seeding of her microbiome at a homebirth, there are things that can be done in hospital to improve the situation there. First, except in an emergency, never separate the baby from the mom. Besides seeding her microbiome, this is also the first experience with how she is treated in the world. Are we treating her with loving respect? Are we aware that everything will resonate in society and her life?
  2. We can be the best practitioners possible. Learn and teach all about birth. We can do so many things to help change people. I love what Ina May Gaskin tells moms, paraphrased here: “Do not listen to negative birth stories. You are pregnant and must hear only positive stories. If someone starts to tell you a negative story, explain that you are pregnant and are not supposed to listen to negative stories!”
  3. There are many other ways we can be proactive in changing birth. Read Sara Wickham’s article on 26 ways to change birth. I am sure you can think of others. Write Midwifery Today an article if you think of some!

At a conference many years ago, a very old midwife from Mexico told of how one subculture there birthed. It was all so simple: mom would go into labor and have very short, mostly painless labor. No big deal was made of it. She would simply have her baby very fast. No negative stories had been told to change the woman’s mind—so she just easily birthed her baby.

I also remember studying couvade in anthropology in college. This is a custom in which the father feels all the pregnancy conditions, such as nausea, and also goes into labor while—in many cases—the mom cares for him. She actually has the baby, of course, but he does labor.

These stories show that labor is mostly in the mind and our minds in Western culture have gotten so poisoned that most women cannot just have an easy birth. Can we change that? We just have to keep trying. It is part of our calling.

Toward better birth,

About Author: Jan Tritten

Jan Tritten is the founder, editor, and mother of Midwifery Today magazine and conferences. Her love for and study of midwifery sprang from the beautiful homebirth of her second daughter—after a disappointing, medicalized first birth in the hospital. After giving birth at home, she kept studying birth books because, “she thought there was something more here.” She became a homebirth midwife in 1977 and continued helping moms who wanted a better birth experience. Jan started Midwifery Today in 1986 to spread the good word about midwifery care, using her experience to guide editorial and conferences. Her mission is to make loving midwifery care the norm for birthing women and their babies in the United States and around the world. Meet Jan at our conferences around the world!

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